2023 NCAA tournament Cinderellas: 7 teams that could crash the Dance

History shows that choosing the winner of the NCAA Women’s Tournament is quite simple.

The top three seeds have won all 40 NCAA women’s tournament titles, while the No. 1 seed has won the last 10 titles in a row.

No 14th or 15th seed has ever made it past the first round of the tournament. The 16th seed never made it past the second round. Only three No. 13 seeds have played in the Sweet 16. One No. 11 seed made the Elite Eight, and one No. 9 seed made it to the Final Four. One No. 5 seed made it to the national championship game, and only two No. 3 seeds won the NCAA title.

[Free bracket contests for both tourneys | Printable Women’s | Men’s]

While it’s true that the pitch gets easier to predict the deeper we go in the tournament, there are also disappointments. About eight teams each year beat an opponent two or more positions higher than them. according to the NCAA. Take, for example, Creighton, the No. 10 seed at last year’s tournament.

The Bluejays upset Colorado with the No. 7 seed in the first round, the No. 2 seed of Iowa in the second, and the No. 3 seed of Iowa State in the Sweet 16 before falling to eventual champion South Carolina in the Elite Eight.

Now that the field of the 2023 tournament has been decided, who could be the 2022 Creighton this year? Here are Sportzshala Sports’ Cinderella predictions for each region:

Portland Pilots forward Alex Fowler (12) celebrates after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the WCC Women's Basketball Tournament Final.  (Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)
Portland Pilots forward Alex Fowler (12) celebrates after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the WCC Women’s Basketball Tournament Final. (Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)

Greenville 1

No. 12 Portland

The Portland Pilots (23-8) were automatically entered into this year’s tournament after they swept Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Championship. Portland last qualified in 2020 when the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four players from that 2020 team remain, including forward Alex Fowler. Fowler leads the team in scoring, averaging 17.8 points per game. She shoots 58.4% from the field, which is 19th in field goal percentage in Division I.

The defense will be the pressure point for the pilots in the first round. They allow the opposition to score about 62 points per game, which their opponent, the No. 5 seed from Oklahoma, will certainly try to take advantage of. The Sooners average a whopping 85.2 points per game.

But as the No. 12 seed, the numbers are somewhat on Portland’s side to provide an upset.

In the history of the NCAA Tournament, the No. 12 seed has won about a quarter of their tournament games. It turns out about one victory per year. Belmont and Florida’s Gulf Coast advanced to the second round at No. 12 last year.

No. 5 Oklahoma

If Portland can’t get past Oklahoma, the Sooners (25-6) could take second place on offense in scoring and go far ahead in the tournament.

Oklahoma has four double-digit averages: Mady Williams (15.5), Ana Llanusa (11.7), Taylor Robertson (11.5) and Skylar Vann (11.5). The Sooners lead all Power Five programs with nine threes per game. Robertson is the top scorer in NCAA history with 534 career points, 88 of which came this season.

Oklahoma has the opportunity to face overall No. 1 South Carolina in the Sweet 16 round. The Sooners’ powerful offense could challenge the Gamecocks in a way they haven’t been until now.

Greenville 2

No. 10 Princeton

The familiar saying “defense wins championships” may not apply here, but The Princeton Tigers defense can definitely win NCAA tournament play.

Princeton (23-5) has the seventh-best defense in the nation, capping opponents at 52.8 points per game. A win over 7th seed state North Carolina in the first round seems very possible and will likely lead to a meeting with 2nd seed Utah in the round of 16. This journey of the “Tigers” ended last year. They lost to #3 Indiana 56–55.

That team left four starters: Caitlin Chen (Ivy League Player of the Year averaging 15.9 points per game), Ellie Mitchell (two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year), Julia Cunningham and Grace Stone. Could this be their sweet 16th year?

No. 5 Washington State

Can Pac-12 Cinderella capitalize on the momentum of the conference tournament this year in a deep run at the NCAA Tournament?

The Cougars (23-10) won four in a row, including a thrilling victory over the No. 2 seed Utah, en route to their first conference championship in program history. This triumph was WSU’s first Pac-12 title for women’s sports. As a result, the Cougars finished 5th in this year’s NCAA Tournament, the highest seed in program history.

WSU’s first-round opponent is the No. 12 seed at Florida’s Gulf Coast. Last March, FGCU won its first game against Virginia Tech, which placed 5th. The Eagles have four players hitting over 40% of three this season, leading them to Division One.

However, Pac-12 WSU’s experience undoubtedly prepared him for the NCAA Tournament.

Seattle 3

No. 6 UNK

The 2022 NCAA Tournament for the Tar Heels ended with a Sweet 16 against South Carolina. UNC was the only team to lose to the Gamecocks by single digits (eight points).

The Tar Heels’ record of 21-10 this season isn’t impressive at first glance, but it includes six quality wins over AP top 25 opponents. While the No. 6 seed seems surprisingly low, at least they’re not in the same region as South Carolina this year.

UNC’s opponent in the second round is likely to be Ohio State, which took 3rd place. The Buckeyes are averaging 80.8 points per game, which is eighth in Division I. The Tar Heels have had trouble scoring lately, including their most recent performance in a 44-40 ACC quarter-final loss to Duke.

Returning starters Deja Kelly, the Tar Heels’ top scorer, and Alyssa Oustby, their top rebounder, will need to play for UNC for another shot at the Sweet 16 this year.

Seattle 4

No. 11 Middle Tennessee

MTSU (28-4) won a 10-game streak in the NCAA Tournament.

The Lady Raiders received 59 votes in the latest AP poll after finishing 25th in week 18 and 24th in week 17. Their biggest win of the season came at that time. 18 Louisville (dominant 67–49 win), which received a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament than MTSU’s first-round opponent, No. 6 Colorado.

The Raiders are averaging 73.4 points per game, tying them 45th in the nation. They are led by four players with double-digit averages – Ksenia Malashka (15.2), Savannah Wheeler (15.1), Jalynn Gregory (13.7) and Courtney Whitson (10.4).

MTSU also manages to get to the free throw line, averaging about 16 per game, which ranks eighth in Division I. The Raiders convert 78.4% of their free throws, which equates to about 12.5 points per game from the line. Their ball control is another strong point, ranking eighth in the country in turnovers per game (12.1) and 25th in turnovers (4.88).

Colorado’s defense limits opponents to 58.6 points per game, which is in the top 50 of the first division. But MTSU will certainly challenge Buffalo in the first round.

No. 5 Louisville

The Cardinals reached the national championship game when they were last seeded at number 5.

Louisville ran through Baylor’s No. 1 in the Sweet 16, Tennessee’s No. 2 in the Elite Eight, and Cal’s No. 2 in the Final Four during the 2013 tournament. The Cardinals suffered eight losses in the first round.

There are 11 this year. But the Cardinals (23-11) are out of a deep conference in the ACC, with eight of the nation’s top teams in the tournament. Of their six conference losses, two were painfully close regular season losses to the top two teams in the ACC – a two-point loss at the hands of then No. 13th at Virginia Tech in January and lost in overtime by two points to then No. 10 Notre Dame in February. Louisville then thrashed Notre Dame, 64–38, in the conference tournament before losing to Virginia Tech in the championship game.

Wichita’s NCAA Most Outstanding Player last season, Hayley Van Lit, currently leads the Cardinals in scoring with 19.2 points per game.

In addition to her experience, Louisville can draw on…


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